By Luke Haqq. Full text here.
The massive increase of microcephalic infants in recent years as a result of the pandemic spread of Zika virus has reinvigorated public responses to birth defect risks. However, the possibility of fetal abnormalities attends every pregnancy, yet public tools have not been efficiently leveraged to respond to this reality. This failure will become palpable as genomics plays an increasing role in healthcare practice, for genomic sequencing often reveals health information that can affect an individual’s deliberations about reproduction, such as carrier status or other genetic information indicating teratological risk. The structure of an effective birth defect policy should not remain siloed to federal agencies and clinical research, but should rather also include increasing access to and privacy of individual health information of reproductive significance, promoting knowledge of genetics and birth defect risks in adolescence through sex education curricula, and expanding the availability of tools that enable reproductive choice, including contraception, abortion, and diagnostic and screening tools, such as individual and fetal genomic sequencing. The increased attention given to birth defects in public discourse because of Zika should be harnessed not only to mitigate their risk during epidemic outbreaks, but also to reduce their prevalence in the more quotidian aspect of life.